A Fallen Ranger

Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met?


On Saturday February 17, 194 people gathered to remember a friend who died. Almost none of them had met the man. Some only knew his name. Others were there to support their friends.

And it all happened through the Internet.

Fourteen years ago, in 2004, I started playing Until Uru. UU was the bones of what was supposed to be Uru Live, a multiplayer Myst game. It never got off the ground, but the company behind it released the code for others to run their own servers, and the game took the name Until Uru.

I’d never played an online game before. But I got connected to the Guild of Greeters, a group of players who’d taken it upon themselves to welcome new people to the game. I started hanging out with them whenever I logged in, and eventually joined their group. For years I helped new players to the game and enjoyed every minute of it. Unlike other online games, in UU, you didn’t play a character, you played yourself (“you are you”, or “URU”, as the community would say, though that isn’t what the word actually means). Eventually, when more funding became available, UU became Myst Online: Uru Live. When that was canceled, it returned as Myst Online: Uru Live Again. And the community still struggles on.

Members of the Guild of Greeters when we met at Mysterium 2006. CAGrayWolf (David) is on the bottom left.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to go to Spokane, Washington, with my cousin Max to visit the game company’s headquarters for a fan gathering. There, I finally got to meet in person many of the people I “knew” in the game. And I did know them. Online communities do connect people. We talked about life and got to know each other pretty well. I finally had faces to connect with names like Ayli, Allmyst, Devonette, Rex Havoc, Ja’de, Tyion, SuperGram, AnnaKat, Goldenwedge, Papa_Smurf, Tomala, CAGrayWolf (some I’d met earlier when the fan gathering was held in Chicago). We ate together, saw the city together, went geocaching and got lost together. It was like meeting up with friends you haven’t seen in forever, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

And then CAGrayWolf died.

I’d only met him once in person, at that gathering. David had been sick for a long time, and we all knew it. But it’s hard to see that stuff when you only communicate in text. David had been planning the next fan gathering up until just a few days before he died. A fund was set up with a wolf rescue organization he loved so those of us who wanted to show our love and support.

Even though it was a friendship cultivated over text and the Internet, for many, the death of CAGrayWolf was difficult. Some knew him much, much better than I did. They were good, personal friends. Everyone knows what it feels like to have a friend die. It was the same way when Shadowcats died a couple years later. Richard had also been sick for a long time, and his illness finally overtook him. Their names, along with the names of other players who have died, are listed on a memorial that still stands in the Kahlo Pub in MO:ULa. People still visit that memorial to see the names of their friends they’ve lost.

This is not a phenomenon restricted to MO:ULa of course. In college I began playing a game called Lusternia. There are memorials to the players Visaeris, Vathael, and Rhaffe, who all died after I started playing. And, in Lord of the Rings Online, 194 people just gathered last week to remember Sevak, Ken, who loved his game and the community in it.

Some may read this and scoff. How can people mourn the death of someone they never met? We don’t question this when it’s a national hero or celebrity we’ve never met–everyone mourns when they die. But for some, the idea of cultivating a friendship or relationship online is ridiculous. It can’t be done. It’s not a “real” friendship, relationship, or community.

They’re wrong.

Community takes many forms. I’m thankful for the communities I’ve been lucky to be a part of–especially the online communities that connect people from all over the world. They’ve helped me through hard times, opened me up to different view points, cultures, and ideas, and challenged me. They’ve provided places to celebrate and places to mourn in ways the church has yet to fully realize in its own communities. I wouldn’t be who I am today with them and the people in them. And I’ll miss them all when they’re gone.

Rest in peace, Ken. Say hi to Richard and David for me.

Dedicated to: Sevak, Rhaffe, Vathael, Visaeris, Pehpsee, CAgraywolf, Shadowcats, Aquila, Grassie73, Sil-Oh-Wet, Myst’Aken, Terra, Ron Hayter, GLO, Jahuti, Wamduskasapa, Perlenstern, Mo’zie, jmb30321, Zardoz, JDrake, Katzi, oldmanjob, Ramsine, Cindy Farrar, Dust’ei, Gandhar, Flyboy, and Josef Riedl.

I’m Not Ready

I couldn’t sleep the night after. I rarely cry, and I didn’t that night, but I felt like I wanted to. When I woke up the following morning, my fears had found form.

The election for the United States electoral college has come and gone. In a month and a week, the new President of the United States will be elected (if this sounds confusing, please watch this helpful explanation on how the electoral college works).

My preferred candidate didn’t win the electoral college election. My second-preferred candidate didn’t win, either.

Am I disappointed? Yes. I would have preferred someone else as the 45th President of the United States. I’m as disappointed as I was in 2000 and 2004. I’m as disappointed as many of my family were in 2008 and 2012. I worry about what the next four years might bring.

But I’m also afraid. I couldn’t sleep the night after the election. I rarely cry, and I didn’t that night, but I felt like I wanted to. When I woke up the following morning, my fears had found form. The night after, the days after the election, there was a spike in homophobic, xenophobic, and racist threats and physical attacks. People I know, who are the targets of such aggression, poured out their hearts and expressed their terror at the thought of leaving their homes, wondering if they would be the next victims. Calls to suicide prevention hotlines have spiked dramatically.

In the midst of these voices another call was heard: Get over it. Your candidate lost. So what? Stop whining. Move on.

Let me be clear. There are people who are dramatically upset that Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Evan McMullin lost the election for no other reason than they lost.

But the people I know who are truly frightened today aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election they are being threatened and physically attacked.

Let me repeat that: They aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election they are being threatened and physically attacked.

They aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election, they are being threatened and physically attacked.

Get over it. Your candidate lost. So what? Stop whining. Move on.

Maybe I’m not ready to simply move on.

Maybe I remember when even after the constitutionality of same-sex marriage was declared, elected officials still refused to grant people that hard-earned right, making my friends wonder if their marriages were in jeopardy, too.

Maybe I remember when I asked my transgender friend which pronouns she preferred, and she nearly cried; no one had ever asked her that before, and people had only used pronouns to mock or attack her.

Maybe I remember how many times I heard my own family refer to our current President as “that nigger”, and even when others chastised it, they accepted it. “That’s just they way they are,” they said.

Maybe I remember my classmate telling me how often he was stopped by cops while walking down the street of the city our seminary was in, because he was black.

Maybe I remember the first time one of my friends told me that they were victims of sexual assault, and when they tried to stand up for themselves, they were immediately shunned by their friends, who made every excuse possible for her attacker’s actions.

Maybe I remember a bishop in the ELCA (my church) being told by one of our congregation’s call committees that he had better send them “No blacks, no gays, no women,” and people thinking that was perfectly okay.

I want our country to come together once again, to work together, to work towards unity. But maybe, because people consistently refuse to acknowledge the horror and torture that people I love have been subjected to for years, maybe I’m not ready to simply forget it all and move on.

I’m not ready to move on. Not while the people telling me to move on won’t listen to the voices begging them to listen to their stories and what’s happening to them. Not while victims continue to go unheard or are dismissed with a flippant “get over it”. I’m not ready to move on.

I stand with them.

Featured Image: “Student Voices” by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

To those experiencing violence and intimidation from people who feel empowered to put their hate into action:

I stand with you. If you need someone to listen and support you, I’ll be there. If you need help finding safety, I’ll do what I can. If you feel alone, there are others willing to hear, listen, and talk. Email. Call. Get in touch with someone. You are not alone.

Courtesy of ReconcilingWorks.
Courtesy of ReconcilingWorks.

In the Midst of Tragedy

We live in a culture and society that does everything it can to hide grief. But it’s not okay. Everything’s not okay.

There hasn’t been a post here in over a month, and a sermon hasn’t been uploaded in over two months. At least in the case of sermons, this can be partially attributed to the way in which I deliver sermons now. I’ve switched from writing a full manuscript to using note cards. And since we don’t yet record my sermons in audio or visual form, this means I have to sit down and retype the sermon from memory as best I can (or at least its main ideas).

But I also haven’t written recently because my wife and I have been recovering from a personal tragedy. We’ve been sharing our story publicly because it has helped us heal and allowed others to share their own stories.

Debbie and I married two years ago on a beautiful, sunny, June afternoon and we always intended to start a family. Two years later, it still hadn’t happened. Until, of course, it did. In July of this year, Debbie found out she was pregnant. What a joy! I went with her to her doctor’s appointment and sat with her as she received an ultrasound. There was our little Gummy Bear (our name for our little one since, during the ultrasound, that’s exactly what it looked like we were seeing). Heartbeat, little movements, at eight weeks it was all there, like a little miracle.

Of course, it was too early to tell people, so we waited a few weeks. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all, so when my family came up to visit early in August we shared the good news. It took a few seconds for my mother to figure out she was looking at an ultrasound photo before it finally clicked, but my grandmother figured it out right away and woke up half the neighborhood with her ecstatic screaming. We told Debbie’s family through a Skype video call since they were gathered together with her extended family for their annual family picnic.

On Tuesday, August 16, Debbie had another routine doctor’s appointment and I had a Congregation Council meeting. I wanted to be with Debbie since she was going to be getting another ultrasound and we might find out the sex of our baby. However, we were discussing the budget for next year at the Council meeting, and I felt I needed to be there for that discussion. When I got home that night, Debbie was sitting on the couch and I could tell immediately that something was wrong. She stood up, shook her head–and as my heart fell, so did the tears. We spent most of the night and the next few days crying.

Somewhere around the nine-week mark, not long after that first ultrasound, our baby died. We don’t know why, though there were no indications that anything was wrong or that we had done something to cause our miscarriage–Debbie didn’t even feel anything or feel any different, which is why we shared our happy news. We, and the doctor, thought everything was fine. The doctor’s best guess is that the baby had a chromosomal abnormality, which accounts for the majority of spontaneous miscarriages. In other words, we were unlucky.

Because we had just shared our happy news, we knew we had to share our tragic news, too. Both Debbie and I posted to Facebook to let our friends and family know and to ask for their love and support. We can’t thank everyone enough for that love and support. After we publicly shared our tragedy, messages and cards came from across the country. It’s all meant the world to us as we’ve tried to put our lives back together.

But something else accompanied many of those cards and messages we didn’t expect. We knew that some of our family and friends had also had miscarriages, but we had no idea just how many. It turns out, we know a lot of people who’ve had miscarriages and never told anyone. They never got to share their stories.

Miscarriages, we’ve learned, are surprisingly common. About 30-40% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages, and that number includes pregnancies that miscarry so early that the mother doesn’t even know she’s pregnant yet. In pregnancies that are far enough along that the mother knows she’s pregnant, the number is about 10-20%. That’s up to 1 in 5 pregnancies that families know about and are expecting.

Miscarriages, we’ve also learned, are a taboo subject. Nobody talks about them. Debbie and I both knew that there were people in our families who had miscarried, but we were shocked at the number of friends–even friends our own age, with whom we went to high school, college, and seminary–who have also had miscarriages. These are people we talk with semi-regularly and keep up with on Facebook. And we never knew, because nobody ever talks about it.

We live in a culture and society that does everything it can to hide grief. We’re told to muscle through, to put on a good face, to pretend like everything’s okay and to grieve quietly and privately at home. Debbie and I each took time off of work, though not enough. We knew we had to get back to work if we wanted to keep our jobs. But it’s not okay. Everything’s not okay. And it’s okay to say that.

I don’t know if Debbie and I would have shared our miscarriage if we hadn’t told everyone yet about our pregnancy. Our hand had been forced. It was either share publicly, or share with every person when they congratulated us for our good news and embarrass them privately. We chose to share publicly so there would be no mistake and no misunderstanding. But in the process, we came to better handle our grief. We learned we weren’t alone, as we had friends and family across the country praying for us and checking in on us. Two of our best friends even drove 12 hours in one day to spend a weekend with us before driving 12 hours back. We learned that others had experienced the same hurt but didn’t have the same support because no one else knew; and that by sharing our story, we allowed them to share theirs, to know that they weren’t alone either, and that someone was thinking of them.

It will be a long time before Debbie and I can get our lives back together. We’ll never forget our little Gummy Bear. One of our friends told us how she remembers her child that was never born, and so there are now stars going up in each room of our house to remind us. But we’ll also never forget the messages of love and support we’ve received, that let us know we aren’t alone. And we’ll never forget the stories we’ve heard in the midst of tragedy from others who’ve experienced the same thing, who’ve finally been able to give a voice to their grief and pain.

Featured Image: “Double Rainbow” by Susanne Nilsson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.